You’ll have heard plenty of construction bosses grumbling about how difficult it has become to find a good brickie or carpenter of late. Tradespeople of all kinds left the industry in their droves during the financial crisis but with momentum now picking up, an all-too predictable mismatch between supply and demand for talent is developing. Worryingly, it looks like this trend will only to get worse as the number of entrants coming into the industry is a long way short of being adequate. Apprenticeship starts in 2013 to 2014 totalled a mere 16,000, and the general bottoming out of apprenticeship numbers in the years following the downturn has depleted the skills base. Given that another 400,000 workers are expected to retire over the next decade, we need to find a way to address the skills shortage.

Small and medium-sized (SME) construction firms, like the ones the FMB represents, will be at the very forefront of any solution. That’s why we launched a new research report titled “Defusing the skills time bomb” at the end of last year. Two-thirds of all construction apprentices are trained by SMEs, a statistic that underlines the importance small companies place on training the next generation of talent. And there obviously exists an appetite to do more still. Our research found that a massive 94% of smaller firms want to take on apprentices. So the question is: how do we encourage those employers that want to train apprentices but aren’t currently doing so?

Our research found that a third of businesses are being put off from training apprentices because of a variety of “fear factors.” Unsurprisingly, the fiendish complexity of taking on an apprentice acts a major deterrent, emphasising the need to simplify existing support systems for firms looking to engage. Similarly, worries over costs can cause companies to give up before they have even started.

The latter is extremely important, as currently, just under 80% of non-recruiters of apprentices are not aware of one of the most important apprenticeship grants available to them. 75% of these would-be industry mentors say knowledge of financial support would make them more likely to take on apprentices, demonstrating that the current support arrangements are not being communicated as well as they should be. The FMB needs to work with the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), which has indicated that supporting apprenticeships will be the predominant focus of its activities in the future, and ensure these small firms know about and can access the support they are entitled to.

More broadly, it’s vital that we see a cultural shift in attitudes in this country. Hundreds of testimonials were gathered as part of our research and they reflected an often repeated truth - that is, the negative perception of a career in construction is making it more difficult to find good quality candidates. The rewards of a career in our sector – of which readers will need no reminding – have to be championed properly, not only to the young, but also to older workers who left the industry during the economic downturn.  Over the coming months, the FMB will be working closely with the Government and CITB in an effort to educate people on the many reasons why they should consider a career in construction.